Wednesday, July 24, 2013


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/19/13)

          The late Branch Rickey, the baseball manager who hired Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier in professional baseball, managed the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1942 to 1950.  He once said, “My father was 86 when he died.  As an old man he was still planting peach and apple trees on our farm near Portsmouth, Ohio.  When I asked who would take in the fruit he said, 'That's not important. I just want to live every day as if I were going to live forever.'”  Hans Vaihinger, the early 20th century German philosopher, put it succinctly, we live “als ob”, as if.

          I often think of Branch Rickey and his father.  At 86, I’m digging holes and planting several lilac bushes along one side of our property.  I may not live long enough to see them grow tall enough to shield our privacy, but I assume I will.  It’s called hope.  Branch Rickey’s father understood that the genius of gardening is hope.  There is always a tomorrow every time a gardener plants a seed, a bush, or a tree, and it’s the loss of tomorrow where many people, at whatever age, go astray.  They’re spiraling in yesterday’s squirrel cage.  Going nowhere or even backwards, they live without anticipation, a life of boring “same olds.”

          On contrast, some social scientists, called “futurists,” think that they know the future.  The three witches in Macbeth were far more reliable.  Since the only thing we know is the past, the “futurists” talk about nothing at all, a fact that doesn’t seem to dissuade them, resulting in a particularly boring kind of science fiction, rivaling economics.  We all stand “upon this bank and shoal of time,” as Macbeth said, trying to see beyond the horizon into the future’s unknown.

Hope isn’t knowledge, but rather anticipation.  In contrast, that dreadful spiraling experience called depression amongst other things is living without hope or anticipation.  It afflicts people of all ages and isn’t solely an affliction of the aged.  One of the reasons that gardening is so beneficial to the human experience is that it is based on hope, an anticipation of a tomorrow. 

Just a short drive around town proves the point.  A gaggle of dismal young people gathered on a street corner or in a city park smoking cigarettes and pot, drinking rot gut, and talking about nothing in particular, all reassuring themselves that life is barely worth living.  I see them on my way to the main library where I tutor with The Literacy Center three times a week.

Then there is some old fart up to his ankles in dirt and muck having the time of his life caring for several rows of corn or carefully tending his roses.  He has fewer years ahead of him, but he’s joyful because he has hope.  Understanding the contrast is a no-brainer.  It has to do with planting a seed.  The gardener always expects to eat the corn or smell the roses.

Gardening isn’t a rational, scientific endeavor, as are botany and horticulture.  They like facts and figures, charts and graphs, what will work and what won’t, and, especially, hierarchical classifications, all in faux Latin and Greek.  Useful, they keep gardeners from wasting time and money trying things that won’t work.  However, they’re observers and commentators on gardening, statisticians, not lovers.

Intimately involved, gardeners feel their gardens are extensions of themselves.  They feel and touch their plants, even caressing them and speaking to them.  It’s not an objective experience but an intimate one.  They relish the feeling of soil drifting through their fingers, as they plant a seed early in the spring or dig holes, full of hope that they will flower or bear fruit.  It’s an existential and spiritual experience rather than a rational scientific one because it’s a hope grounded in faith.  Faith isn’t knowledge but an assumption that breeds anticipation.  It, also, begets joy.

Martin Luther, the great theologian of the 16th century who set faith free from authoritarian repression, wrote:  “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2013


Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at



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